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29 March 2021

Covid-19 vaccine rollout: 200,000-a-day jabs plan unveiled

Sunday Times 28 March 2021 - The government has finally unveiled details of its vaccine rollout plan, which sets an ambitious target of inoculating up to 200,000 people a day.

More than 2,000 vaccination sites - including stadiums, shopping centres, churches and hospitals - have been identified. The rollout is due to kick off in mid-May, following the expected arrival of the first batch of 2.8-million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses at the end of April. Registration for phase two of the rollout is due to start next month. Phase one involves finalising the vaccination of SA's 1.5-million health-care workers. By the end of next week, 250,000 health-care workers are expected to have been vaccinated under the Sisonke programme, part of an ongoing J&J trial that is due to finish at the end of April. The phase one rollout will pick up where the trial ends, alongside phase two, which includes people over 60, those with comorbidities and essential workers. 

Discovery to inoculate high-risk members when vaccine becomes available

Business Day 28 March 2021 - CEO Adrian Gore says SA on the brink of securing vaccines to cover more than 37-million adults

Discovery CEO Adrian Gore says the group’s administered schemes were aiming to vaccinate 550,000 high-risk members within a few weeks of the Covid-19 vaccine being available. In a letter to Discovery members, Gore said the company was making an unprecedented financial and human capital investment on its mass vaccination programme. It aimed to vaccinate 3-million adult beneficiaries “quickly and efficiently, with the capacity to inoculate 50,000 people a day”, he said. Gore said SA was on the brink of securing sufficient vaccines to cover more than 37-million adults. The national vaccination drive will be the biggest in SA’s history, and aims to inoculate 40-million adults, “two-thirds of the country’s population”, to reach herd immunity. It has yet to get under way as commercial stocks secured from vaccine manufacturers have yet to be delivered. Mkhize, speaking to the SABC on Thursday, said discussions about “stricter precautions” ahead of the Easter long weekend were being finalised. He said the decision to move the country to a higher lockdown level was being discussed by government officials and will be based on recommendations from epidemiological experts. 

PODCAST | Vaccine rollout rate to take 17 years for herd immunity, says expert

Business Day 26 March 2021 - At the current rate of an average of 7,000 vaccinations a day, SA is falling way behind the herd immunity curve

In this edition of Business Day Spotlight, we talk about the logistics around SA’s vaccine rollout. Our host Mudiwa Gavaza is joined by Prof Alex van den Heever from the Wits School of Governance. Vaccination against Covid-19 is currently the mission of countries around the world as a way to control the spread of the coronavirus. Van den Heever serves as chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits University. An economist by training, he has advised both public- and private-sector players on health economics and policy issues. He says SA has been slow to put together a strategy for vaccination and there actually no rollout plan in place at the moment. Vaccinations are primarily part of an ongoing trial, Van den Heever says. But even then, the rate is too slow. Slow rates of vaccination are a risk as they increase the likelihood of mutations and variations of the coronavirus developing. Van den Heever suggests ramping the rate up to more than 200,000 doses administered a day for the country to reach its goal in the next two years. As sobering as these numbers are, Van den Heever does concede that countries are struggling to implement effective rollout strategies given the scale at which it has to be done. “Teething issues can be expected,” he says. 

Former CDC head thinks the coronavirus came from Wuhan lab

Business Day 26 March 2021 - Robert Redfield says the speed of human-to-human transmission makes him believe it was being worked on in a lab and escaped by accident

A former top US health official says he thinks the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, and began spreading as early as September of 2019. Robert Redfield, who led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, told CNN in a clip aired on Friday that he thinks this scenario is more likely than any alternative, including that the virus erupted after transferring from animals to humans or in a live animal market. The most likely origin “was from a laboratory — you know, escaped”, said Redfield, who served under the administration of former president Donald Trump. “Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out.” Redfield added that he was “not implying any intentionality”, or accusing China of purposefully releasing it, and that he guesses the virus “started being transmitted somewhere in September, October, in Wuhan”. 

Scientists unhappy at government selling AstraZeneca shots to AU

Business Day 26 March 2021 - They say the vaccine’s effectiveness against the variant widespread in Africa and SA has not been determined, and raises ethical questions

Six of SA’s leading medical scientists said the government’s decision to sell 1-million coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca to other African nations is questionable because it had not determined their effectiveness against a variant that is widespread in Africa and SA. SA bought the shots from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is making the vaccine under licence. It suspended the rollout to health workers in February after a small study showed they were largely ineffective in stopping mild disease caused by a virus variant first identified in SA late in 2020. The vaccines were resold to other African countries earlier in March. “Sending the AstraZeneca vaccine to other African countries raises deep ethical concerns,” the scientists said in an editorial published in the SA Medical Journal on Thursday. “The B.1.351 variant has been detected throughout Africa and may be responsible for the devastating second wave many countries have just experienced. If the SA authorities truly believed that the AstraZeneca vaccine did not work, why was it sold on to the AU?” 

Many remain vulnerable to Covid-19 in Western Cape, antibody tests show

Business Day 25 March 2021 - Survey sets off alarm bells as country braces for third wave of Covid-19 cases

A seroprevalence survey in the Western Cape, which uses antibody tests to gauge the percentage of people in a population who have antibodies against Covid-19, suggests that most areas in the province remain vulnerable to the virus. This comes as the country braces for third wave of Covid-19 cases ahead of the traditionally busy Easter holidays.  Health minister Zweli Mkhize’s advisers have recommended the reintroduction of tighter restrictions on alcohol sales and public gatherings to try to avoid a surge as the government battles to get its vaccine programme going. “Low seroprevalence indicates a risk of potentially a more severe impact in the third wave, and this should be taken into consideration in planning mitigation for these areas,” Cloete said. Seroprevalence was highest in 30- to 44-year-old group and decreases with increasing age, which supports the view that the elderly should be vaccinated as matter of urgency, Cloete said. 

Solidarity Fund considers injecting more funds into Covid-19 vaccine effort

Business Day 25 March 2021 - Plans to vaccinate 40-million people by the end of the year have been delayed by the shortage of vaccines and may now take until February 2022

The Solidarity Fund, established last year to raise money to help the government tackle the coronavirus crisis, is considering spending R69m on technical support for its Covid-19 vaccine rollout. The fund has received pledges of R3.22bn since its establishment, of which R2.76bn has been allocated to health, humanitarian relief and behavioural change interventions, said CEO Tandi Nzimande. It has now shifted its focus to vaccines as they offer the best hope for controlling and reducing the impact of Covid-19, she said. The national vaccination drive will be the biggest in SA’s history, and aims to inoculate 40-million adults, two thirds of the country’s population. It has yet to get under way as commercial stocks secured from vaccine manufacturers have yet to be delivered. 

Karim pays tribute to colleagues’ labour of love in Covid battle

Business Day 25 March 2021 - The health minister’s top coronavirus adviser says he needs to devote his attention to his HIV research and other academic commitments

Health minister Zweli Mkhize’s top coronavirus adviser, Salim Abdool Karim, has stepped down, saying that he needs to devote his attention to his academic commitments and HIV research. Karim is an internationally respected scientist who heads the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in SA at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he holds the position of pro-vice-chancellor for research. He also holds positions at the universities of Columbia, Cornell and Harvard. The ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 was formed to provide scientific guidance to Mkhize and has produced dozens of advisories on subjects ranging from mask-wearing to imposing restrictions aimed at slowing transmission of the disease. These advisories have not necessarily been followed to the letter, as the government has weighed up other considerations when it has imposed restrictions on trade, travel and social interactions. But none of the guidance has been entirely rejected, said Karim. "If we are going to be advisers, we have to recognise there are others giving advice to the government too. We consider only health, but the government has to consider other aspects too," he said. 

Netcare hits back after raid on hospital

Business Day 25 March 2021 - Netcare and Lesotho’s private-public partnership model was once heralded as an example of financing health infrastructure on the continent

Lesotho’s anticorruption police raided a Netcare-managed hospital in the mountain kingdom as tension rose after the government moved to terminate a multimillion-rand contract with the SA company. Netcare, which runs Lesotho biggest referral hospital under a private-public partnership model, has been at loggerheads with its client over the contract since sacking hundreds of workers who were on a wildcat strike for six weeks for higher pay. 

Covid-19 advisers call for return of alcohol restrictions amid third wave risk

Business Day 25 March 2021 - Health minister’s advisers also recommended earlier curfew to delay possible surge expected in April

Health minister Zweli Mkhize’s advisers have recommended the reintroduction of tighter restrictions on alcohol sales and public gatherings to try to avoid a devastating new Covid-19 wave that could see hospital admissions up to a quarter higher than the previous surge. The ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 also recommended an earlier evening curfew to delay a third wave of infections that could begin as soon as the middle of April. They expect it will be drastically worse than the second wave, with as many as 25% more hospital admissions. Experts fear that the slow pace of SA’s vaccine rollout, the dominance of the new and highly transmissible variant 501Y.V2, and the arrival of cooler weather are set to combine to potentially deadly effect. 

Boris Johnson says vaccine success was due to ‘greed’ and ‘capitalism’

Business Day 24 March 2021 - British prime minister rows back from comment made in a closed meeting with MPs

Capitalism and greed gave Britain its success in vaccinating its population, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs in a closed meeting, a remark that could rile up Brussels at a time when Britain faces an EU threat to block vaccine imports. “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends,” The Sun newspaper quoted Johnson as telling Conservative MPs during a Zoom meeting on Tuesday evening. Johnson then tried to row back and said: “Actually, I regret saying it,” and then asked MPs repeatedly to “forget I said that”.